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Early intervention collaboration-deaf role models.


This study examined the impact of Deaf Role Models on Early Intervention Programs. The study reveals benefits to Early Intervention Programs if they were to have a Deaf Role Models. The final analysis of this study finds that Early Intervention Programs that do have Deaf Role Models realize the value of consulting and collaborating with these individuals.


Communication is a foundation to build language upon. Without basic communication skills language is often delayed. This is an infamous argument in deaf education today, how so many deaf and hard of hearing children are language delayed. Two significant factors that contribute to this include: (1) hearing parents often do not know how to begin communicating with their deaf or hard of hearing child and so they avoid it or deny their child might need some other sort of communication system than what the parents are accustomed to and, (2) parents are not aware of how to make their child's world more visual or accessible and until they meet someone who is knowledgeable of such things like a Deaf Role Model or a teacher of the deaf. Precious time for building communication and eventually language may slip by hearing parents if they remain in a grief cycle over their child's deafness or hearing loss.

When hearing parents discover that their child is deaf, it brings to the forefront new and unexpected challenges that mainly include how best to communicate with their child and what type of educational setting is the best fit for their child's method of communication (sign language, speaking or both). Yet depending on their background, many deaf parents already seem to know how to communicate with their child. Language for these families is often already in place. This is one of the most significant advantages deaf parents have and one of the most challenging disadvantages that hearing parents have. Ninety percent of children who are deaf are born to hearing parents (Padden & Humphries, 1988). The possibility of a hearing parent encountering a deaf adult who is successful and participates as a functional member of society will depend on where they live as Deaf Communities tend to be found in urban areas. The Deaf Community is a minority population that congregates in areas where there are other deaf individuals (typically higher populated areas of people). This limits the possibility of many hearing parents and their deaf children ever meeting someone who is deaf, consulting with them and gaining a different perspective on deafness. Therefore, by interacting with a deaf adult in an Early Intervention Program, are hearing parents (who have a deaf baby) able to improve their communication interactions with their child, and in what other ways are they affected? If Early Intervention Programs do provide Deaf Role Models, to what capacity are they working or serving in? Lastly, do early intervention teachers feel it is important to have Deaf Role Models involved in their programs?

Navigating Deaf Education

Hearing parents encounter a stream of professionals with their opinions and approaches to deafness (Lane, Hoffmeister and Bahan, 1996). The majority of professionals see the child from a clinical or pathological perspective, which Marschark (1997) describes as a, model acquired during their medical school training, From their viewpoint, being deaf is a serious handicap and an impediment to normal development; yet they know nothing of linguistics, literacy and the future academic challenges these families face. Many medical professionals are unaware there is a group of people who are deaf and who identify with each other as a culture, which encompasses a natural language, social norms, behaviors, beliefs and values. With this, most opinions and suggestions provided by medical professionals offer to hearing parents are welcomed. Rarely is a parent offered a complete perspective about deafness and how it impacts a family and the child himself (Lane, Hoffmeister and Bahan, 1996). Most hearing parents cannot foresee the future of their child and often assume their lives to be unsuccessful.

Ross (1990) explains deaf adults are rarely found in the professional and educational maze a hearing parent faces when their child is identified as deaf or hard of hearing. The history of Deaf Education in America supports this explanation as oralism (the philosophy that promotes educating deaf and hard of hearing through the use of speech only, which swept the world after the World Conference for the Deaf in Milan, Italy, in 1880). An oral education approach is the approach in which children who are deaf or hard of hearing, receive input through speech reading, the amplification of sound, and express themselves through speech (Blazek, 2002). Oralism changed the make-up of the teachers for the deaf and hard of hearing. Teachers who were deaf themselves were ousted because they were required to use speech only and not sign. This significantly eliminated a number of teachers for the deaf and hard of hearing who were deaf themselves, from forty-two percent before 1867, to seventeen percent by the turn of the century and an estimated seven percent today (Lane et al. 1996).

Early Intervention Programs

Early Intervention Programs provide support, information as well as educate parents in order to maximize their child's development. Professionals involved with Early Intervention Programs may include: teachers of the deaf, early childhood specialists, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, parent educators or sign language specialists (Sass-Lehrer, 2002, p. 1). Lane et al. (1996) goes on to be more specific, within the educational maze, many professionals in parentinfant programs and Early Intervention Programs, and most school district special educators, appear not to appreciate adequately the valuable resource that deaf professionals represent. According to Lane et al. (1996), deaf adults could provide a positive view of a deaf child's prospects for hearing parents. Marschark, (1997) states yet another way hearing parents can learn from deaf adults by research that found hearing parents do not instinctively hold visual and tactile strategies for communication interactions to use spontaneously with their deaf child; yet deaf parents use these strategies naturally.

Early Intervention Program and DRM Study

Larwood and LaGrande (2004) evaluated the impact of Deaf Role Models in Early Intervention Programs for deaf and hard of hearing infants and toddlers. Larwood and LaGrande examined to what capacity do Deaf Role Models serve and what areas teachers and parents feel they are most beneficial.

Participants and Settings

The participants were teachers who worked in Early Intervention Programs and have had experience teaching and serving deaf and hard of hearing infants and toddlers were randomly selected from a Yahoo e-group. Participant 1 (P1) was a teacher who holds a California Communication Handicapped Credential, Multiple Subjects Credential and a Clinical Speech and Language Credential. This teacher runs an Early Intervention Program in a Deaf and Hard of Hearing program for a school district in Southern California and has been teaching for 2-5 years. Participant 2 (P2) was a female teacher who holds a California Educational Specialist Credential for Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This teacher runs an Early Intervention Program for a county in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been teaching between 2-5 years. Participant 3 (P3) is male and holds a California Clinical Rehabilitative Services Credential for Language, Speech and Hearing. This teacher works for a county in southern California and has been teaching between 15-20 years. Participant 4 (P4) is a female teacher who holds a California Educational Specialist Credential for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, California Communication Handicapped Credential and a California Single Subject Credential.

This teacher works an Early Intervention Program for a county SELPA (Special Education Local Planning Agency) in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been teaching for 15-20 years.


The researcher utilized two survey questionnaires: a teacher survey and a parent survey. Both surveys included questions based on the review of literature, which found that having a Deaf Role Model involved in an Early Intervention Program could lead to:

* increased parent-child interactions

* an opportunity for a natural language model

* a greater sense of identity for the deaf or hard of hearing infant/toddler

* The teacher survey covered:

* teaching credentials held

* years of teaching experience

* the presence of a Deaf Role Model involved in their program

* what capacity Deaf Role Models serve

* the language or mode of communication Deaf Role Models and teachers use

* what ways the Deaf Role Models benefits the infants/toddlers in their program

* if the early intervention program does not have a Deaf Role Model involved in their program, what are the reasons why.

All teachers participants were asked to distribute surveys to parents they served in the Early Intervention Programs, whose child was identified deaf or hard of hearing. Fourteen parent surveys were completed. The parent survey examined whether or not there was a Deaf Role Model in their Early Intervention Program, the language or mode of communication the Deaf Role Model and parent(s) uses with their child, how the Deaf Role Model has been a benefit to their child and, the reason for not having a deaf adult involved in their child's life, yet what benefits they might foresee if their child was exposed to a Deaf Role Model.

Analysis of Data

The data obtained through the Teacher Surveys indicated not all Early Intervention p Programs provide or consult with Deaf Role Models for deaf and hard of hearing infants and toddlers. Of the programs surveyed, only half reported that they have Deaf Role Models involved in their program. According to the teacher surveys the following reasons were given as to why a Deaf Role Model was not included in their programs.

* The Early Intervention Program did not include a Deaf Role Model was because they did not have any access to a deaf adult.

* The Early Intervention teacher felt the deaf adult on staff did not meet the researcher's definition of Deaf Role Model because they learned to sign as an adult and teenager.

* The Deaf Role Model who participated did not participate with the programs on a regular basis.

* Some Deaf individuals expressed little interest in serving or working in an early intervention program.

However, 50 percent of Early Intervention Programs reported they did consult periodically with deaf adults such as the program principal, teachers, parents, a student assistant and other staff about the use of American Sign Language and exposure to Deaf Culture. All programs were in populated urban areas, which is the most likely place to find a Deaf Community and Deaf Role Model. This finding indicates that programs in urban areas may be making a choice to have or not have a Deaf Role Model in their programs.

Sixty-four percent of the parents surveyed felt that it was very important that a Deaf Role Model be involved in their child's early development. Though many parents surveyed see the value of a Deaf Role Model, a small percentage felt intimidated to try and communicate with deaf adults. The parent survey data indicated a variety of ways in which their communication skills improved significantly through the consultation of a Deaf Role Model in or outside of their child's early intervention program (whether using an oral or signing approach). The parents had more proficient sign language skills, an increased understanding of how to make their child's world more visual, as well as more successful communication between their child and themselves when a Deaf Role Model was included as a part of their deaf child's Early Intervention Program. Overall, this study identified data that supports the research stating that by interacting and collaborating with a deaf adult in an early interventions programs hearing parents:

* improved their interactions with their child

* improved communication with their deaf child

* improved sign language skills: increased facial expression, increased eye contact, willingness to attend to a visual language and increased use of natural language gesture.


Hearing families with deaf children are less likely to ever meet or seek out a deaf adult themselves when Deaf Role Models are not included in Early Intervention Programs. This study examined the value and need for Deaf Role Models to be included in Early Intervention Program. Parents stated their child as well as themselves benefited from access or exposure to a Deaf Role Models. Not all Early Intervention Programs for deaf and hard of hearing children include Deaf Role Models yet the evidence shows awareness that inclusion of these individuals are an important aspect of program planning. Only a small percentage of programs did not include Deaf Role Models. This evidence, though on a small scale, should be enough for Early Interventions Programs serving deaf children to re-assess the design of their program and consider consulting with a Deaf Role Model at some level. There is no question that Deaf Role Models make a significant impact in Early Intervention Programs, deaf infants and toddlers as well as the hearing parents they serve.


Blazek, M. (2002). Resources available to Spanish speaking parents of deaf and hard of hearing children. Unpublished master's thesis, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA..

California Department of Developmental Services. (2003). Title 17 California Code of Regulations division 2, Chapter 2: Early intervention services, Subchapter 2: Program and service components.

Lane, H., Hoffmeister, R., & Bahan, B. (1996). A journey into the deaf world. San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press 5-31.

Larwood, L. LaGrande, J. (2004) Deaf Role Models in Early Intervention Programs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infants and Toddlers. Unpublished research paper, San Jose State University.

Marschark, M. (1997). Raising and educating a deaf child. New York, New York: Oxford University Press 114, 182.

Marschark, M. (1997). Raising and educating a deaf child: A comprehensive guide to the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by parents and educators. New York: Oxford University Press 14.

Padden, C., Humphries, T. (1988). Deaf in America: Voices from a deaf culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 5.

Ross, M. (Ed.), (1990). Hearing-impaired children in the mainstream. Parkton, MD: York Press.

Sass-Lehrer, M. (2002) Early beginnings for deaf and hard of hearing children: Myths and facts of early intervention and guidelines for effective services. Retrieved on April 9, 2003 from KidsWorldDeafNet/e-docs/El/scction-1.html.

Lou Larwood is an assistant professor of special education specializing in deaf education. Jamilee LaGrande is an Early Intervention teacher in rural northern California.
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Author:LaGrande, Jamilee
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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